In celebration of Tressler LLP's 35th anniversary, we caught up with Jay Tressler to reflect on this exciting milestone. Jay Tressler was a founding partner of Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney & Priess, now Tressler LLP, and is also the firm's namesake. We are grateful for Jay's continued dedication to the firm and thoughtful responses in the below interview.
Tressler LLP has been serving clients throughout the country for more than 35 years. As you reflect on this milestone, what comes to mind?
I have enjoyed many blessings in my life. Amongst them was the invitation to join in the founding of Tressler, Soderstrom, Maloney & Priess (TSMP). As we get older, we tend to reﬂect on the important decisions, good and bad, made over time. I treasure the story of how TSMP came into existence and grew from 20 lawyers. For me, the successes that we had provided the comforts I have enjoyed all these many years before and after retiring. When I reﬂect upon this reality, I feel pride as well as an appreciation for the enormous contributions of others.
Jay and Pat Tressler in Hawaii.
In April of 1986, I was approached by Howard Priess who was dissatisfied with his situation. He and Pat Maloney had independently reached a decision to leave our former firm and they asked me to join them. Their thought was that we would start the ﬁrm along with Dan Formeller, Bob Soderstrom and Bill Kindorf. These others had yet to be invited. When I considered my options, I opted to join the group and never looked back. The others did as well. Each of us mortgaged our homes, borrowed our IRA funds and invested in the new ﬁrm. We sought ﬁnancing to begin our enterprise. Financing was crucial and somewhat complicated by the fact that we could not speak to clients about sending us work until we had disclosed our intentions to the other remaining partners. Similarly, we could not speak to our associates about joining us until we had made that disclosure. Our bank understandably had some concerns about our business plan when we acknowledged that we had no assurances that our client contacts would send us work. Nor did we have assurances that the associates we believed would join us would in fact do so. We only could say that we were optimistic that the work and the associates would come. Despite these concerns, our bank loaned us the funds needed to lease and build out oﬃce spaces in Chicago, Wheaton and Waukegan.
Previous logo for TSMP.
The ﬁrm name reﬂected our seniority. I was not present when that name was decided upon. I was in Boulder, Colorado attending the Defense Counsel Trial Academy in July 1986 when we learned that we would need to move quickly to set up our new firm. I had to drop what I was doing and dive into the turmoil back in Chicago. By August, we were in operation in the three locations we had targeted. Judy Helms was invited to join us as a partner and did so. All but one of the associates we invited to join us accepted the invitation. We operated out of a boiler room environment with make-shift storage shelves holding the ﬁles we were allowed to take. Telephone cords ran crisscrossing across the large single room in which we were seated. By late August or early September, we were able to move into nicely appointed oﬃces.
As revenues came in from our billings, we paid ourselves and our associates as well as the bank that had given us our line of credit. The bank had estimated that we would be paying the loan oﬀ over the next three or four years. We paid it oﬀ in half the anticipated time. Until we paid down the lion’s share of the loan, we were living on monthly incomes less than what we had enjoyed at our prior firm.
The hard work of all of us made the adventure both satisfying and rewarding. Each of us made valuable contributions of diﬀerent kinds. I remain proud to have been a part of the endeavor that bears my name to this day.
What do you see as the firm's biggest accomplishment since its inception?
I cannot think of any of our many accomplishments as being the “greatest.” Our ﬁrm developed a great reputation in the insurance industry and local as well as state and national bar associations. We maintained staﬀ longevity that was something to be proud of. The ﬁrm was a fun place to work and the staﬀ showed their appreciation. Since the ﬁrm name began with my name, I often was seen as personifying the ﬁrm. I was aware of the respect I was shown and knew that I was basking in a warm glow that belonged to the ﬁrm rather than to me. But, in reﬂection, I see the professional reputation that TSMP earned over those years, as perhaps its greatest accomplishment.
To achieve the successes that we did and to maintain the reputation that we had over so many years, is no small achievement. We have a great history, and one to protect.
While working at Tressler, what was your main practice area? Why did you choose that area of law?
In 1971, the senior partner at my prior firm would ask each of the associates to spend two days a month sitting in the small, unstaﬀed satellite oﬃce leased in Wheaton, Illinois. I proposed that I would move to Wheaton and give the ﬁrm a continuous presence in the community and hopefully make our practice grow. The ﬁrm accepted my oﬀer and thus began a diverse practice involving real estate transactions, divorce work, estate planning, corporate work and more. I would do whatever came along. But, as the ﬁrm’s insurance defense practice grew, I was fortunate to get to defend the personal injury cases being ﬁled in the collar counties.
At the same time as I was becoming a young trial lawyer, I became actively involved in the Western Springs Theater as an amateur actor. To participate in the theater, I had to go through acting classes. In those classes, I learned about conveying an image on stage. I learned that everything happening on the stage contributed or distracted from the story to be told. I learned many things that became valuable lessons on how to try a case to a jury. It was clear to me that the fun I enjoyed acting in the theater could be enjoyed by trying my cases in court. Over time, I kept busy preparing and trying personal injury cases.
When I came out of law school, my objective was to become a good lawyer working in a good ﬁrm. I aspired to one day become a partner and to live a comfortable life built upon the accomplishments earned through hard work. I was lucky I got to work with and for some of the best trial lawyers in the city. I learned how important the ﬁrm’s reputation was when appearing before judges. I learned that my conduct could aﬀect that reputation for good or for bad and tried my best to make my bosses proud of my work. I learned that even the senior partners were working hard to do their best. I was lucky to have landed a job that allowed me to try jury trials and to learn that art form from gifted ethical trial lawyers.
If I were to advise a new lawyer starting at Tressler, I would advise him or her to look at the ﬁrm’s internal culture as well as its public reputation. If the job will allow you to play a part of a team eﬀort and share in a positive public reputation, embrace it and protect it. If you are going to get to learn from experienced talented mentors, do so and value it. If you would one day like to be recognized the way your senior partners are, make that a goal. There will no doubt be disappointments along the way but such is life. Do not let disappointments keep you from achieving your goal.
What are you up to these days? Do you have any updates about your personal life that you would like to share?
I retired from TSMP in January 1997. I have been asked many times whether I missed my work. I have not. While I was lucky to have a job that I truly enjoyed, I have enjoyed retirement every bit as much. I spend my winters in Surprise, Arizona. I play golf, read, travel a great deal, keep up with a great group of friends outside of the legal world and enjoy my visits with my daughter and my three grandchildren back in Illinois. I still live in Wheaton but no longer in the house I lived in for 43 years. My wife, Pat, will be remembered by some of the lawyers back at Tressler. She was the most wonderful person to come into my life. She passed in September 2020 after a recurrence of cancer that she had fought over 30 years.
Jay and Pat Tressler.